12 August 2014

O's Have a Skilled Bullpen, but Don't Forget About 2012's Group

Hope you like grounders and saves
Last week, I saw this comment about the Orioles' bullpen:
Yes, I can recognize hyperbole and excitement. But have fans already forgotten about the 2012 O's bullpen?

This post isn't meant to shame anyone; it's a reminder of the marvelous 2012 O's bullpen. That group was a driving factor in getting the Orioles back to the playoffs. That O's team had an excellent bullpen and a superb defense to go along with a middle-of-the-pack offense and a below-average starting rotation. This season, the O's again have a strong bullpen and great fielding, with a somewhat improved starting rotation and lineup.

So how do the two years' bullpens compare? Let's take a look:


(Keep in mind that there's still about one-fourth of the 2014 season left to play.)

Just about every category is close. Even the workload is similar: The 2012 bullpen threw the fourth-most innings in the majors (545.1); right now, O's relievers have thrown 376 innings, which is tied for third most. They even allowed a similar amount of home runs: 0.79 HR/9 in 2012; 0.74 HR/9 in 2014.

Both bullpens struggle(d) to rack up strikeouts, but they were/are adept at inducing ground balls and limiting walks. And a splendid, reliable left side of the infield, with J.J. Hardy at shortstop and Manny Machado (who was promoted in August of 2012) at third base, is unquestionably an asset for anyone who throws a pitch for the Orioles.

There are only a few remaining contributors from that 2012 group. The biggest remaining name is Darren O'Day, perhaps the O's best current reliever. Tommy Hunter and Brian Matusz, who was particularly dominant after joining the bullpen late in the 2012 season, are both bullpen mainstays. Miguel Gonzalez is still around after working both as a reliever and starter in 2012, and Steve Johnson is still in the O's organization while he struggles to stay healthy. Gone are Jim Johnson, Luis Ayala, Troy Patton, Pedro Strop, Matt Lindstrom, and Kevin Gregg (covered here), etc. Jake Arrieta, who threw 13.1 innings in relief and struck out 13.5 batters per nine and yet still had a 6.75 ERA (fun with small samples), is also gone, unfortunately.

Now the main contributing relievers are Zach Britton, O'Day, Ryan Webb (who's in the minors for some reason), Hunter, and Brad Brach. T.J. McFarland has been a useful long reliever, and Brian Matusz has turned things around after an ugly few months. And of course you've heard of this recently acquired Andrew Miller fellow.

The O's, currently 68-50 and six games ahead of the second-place Blue Jays, have a +56 run differential, are 24-17 in one-run games, and are 12-4 in extra-inning games. In 2012, the 93-69 O's finished with a +7 run differential and went an incredible 29-9 in one-run games and 16-2 in extra innings. The O's still have that great bullpen and defense, though they are not nearly as lucky/fortunate/whatever you want to call it as that 2012 team.

Building around the bullpen/defense with a (mostly) average lineup and rotation may not be the most conventional strategy to build a consistent winner, but the Orioles also have a 246-196 record since the beginning of the 2012 season. Whatever they're doing has been working.

Stats, courtesy of FanGraphs, as of August 11. Photo via Keith Allison.


Anonymous said...

The problem with 2012 was that the bullpen, specifically Strop fell apart in September. DOD rose to the occasion, but we had problems against the Yankees that sealed the series.

Jon Shepherd said...

Strop did fall apart, but the Orioles had the second best bullpen in September. The emergence of Hunter, Steve Johnson, and the others locking things done helped a ton.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

What I remember is that the pitching was really good but that the O's just couldn't score many runs. But I'd have to go back and make sure that was right.

Rick said...

Jim johnson was the one bullpen guy who faltered in the ALDS that year (Game 1 and Game 3). You could argue that Matusz gave up the walk-off HR in Game 3 to Ibanez but that doesn't happen if Jim gets the save in the 9th. Bullpen and starting pitching was strong throughout, particularly in Game 4 when we gave up 1 run thru 13 innings.

Leading up to that Game 3, I believe we had been 75-0 when leading after the 7th inning and we had won about 12 straight extra innings games. So I think the greater point is that: yes, we have a great bullpen again but all it takes is one to piece to fall apart (no one has a perfect ERA so it's certainly possible). I also think the offense is stronger this year but you know we will find ourselves in close games no matter who we play.

Philip said...

Not enough is being said about Brad Brach. I read a heartfelt essay about Brach on the-I think- San Diego blog, when he was picked up by the Os, that suggested he was one of those fringe guys who would throw a few major league innings and then get released. It was a beautiful essay, and Brad has apparently proved the pundit wrong.
He has proven to be a valuable piece of the pen, and I can't imagine him not making the post season roster.
After Caleb Joseph, Brach may be the best feel-good story of the orioles' season.